Advent | Childbirth at Christmas: Hagar and The Tricky One
The angel of the LORD also said to her: ‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your...
But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.’
After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.’
Luke 1:13-14, 24-25
Luke uses two side-by-side birth stories to invite his readers into the great story of God’s redemption of the world through Jesus Christ. The announcement of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and John’s anticipated birth prepares us for Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of the Messiah. As in his ministry, John’s birth anticipates and directs us towards Jesus.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were righteous before God. Luke repeatedly mentions their blameless obedience, and Zechariah held a prominent position in the temple. However, their status in society was more complex. In accordance with social custom, their childlessness would have resulted in social shame for Elizabeth. The weighty expectation placed upon women to bear children revealed a deeply-rooted assumption that childlessness reflected one’s standing before God. Luke’s clear emphasis on their righteousness contrasts with their childlessness and challenges the assumption that childlessness denotes a spiritual poverty.
Elizabeth and Zechariah respond differently to the news of their expected pregnancy. Zechariah, in the midst of his career high, cannot believe what he is hearing. Priests could only burn incense once in a lifetime and, in his intimate moment with God, Zechariah doubts. He is handed his own season of waiting as his silence matches Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Elizabeth’s trust in God’s gift of new life is remarkable. This is a woman who has been socially shamed for years, and yet her life changes unexpectedly because of God’s gracious gift. Her body is old. Pregnancy and childbirth wouldn’t be easy, and in fact could prove fatal. Yet, she receives the news with grace, humility, and thankfulness. There isn’t fear in her words, but trust.
God’s gracious gift for Elizabeth and Zechariah came in John. But John always points us to Christ. God’s gracious gift to us will always be life, found through and in Jesus. The differing responses of Elizabeth and Zechariah stand alongside a variety of other reactions to the good news of Jesus in the Gospels. Likewise, on our frontlines, people will inevitably react differently to this news. Some will doubt and question like Zechariah, some may trust remarkably like Elizabeth, some may fall between.
Advent is a wonderful time to share our faith, be it an opportunity to share the meaning of Christmas with your colleagues, or even singing carols with your neighbours. How might you share the story of Jesus as God’s gracious gift this Christmas? And how might people on your frontlines respond?
Imogen is a curate in Trull and Angersleigh, and the winner of Theology Slam 2021
How are you sharing your faith on your frontline this Christmas? Join the conversation in the comments below.